Healthy Debate: Treadmill vs. Elliptical

As a personal trainer, I often get asked which is better: treadmill or elliptical? And while I personally am not a fan of the elliptical, I do see the benefits for some. Let’s break down the pros and cons and figure out which would work best for you.



The wonderful thing about the treadmill is that it is a functional exercise – meaning that it mimics an everyday activity (minus the outdoor terrain). Plus it gives you the ability to run during inclement weather.

  • Provides options such as incline, speed, and workout templates
  • Gives you direct training for an upcoming race or event
  • Provides optimal calorie burn


The treadmill can be hard on joints – especially if your running form is less than ideal. It can also cause you to overestimate your outdoor running ability if you don’t change the incline and speed settings.

  • Holding the handle for support can lead to improper form
  • High impact pounding can lead to shin splits or other injuries
  • Too easy to avoid the use of increased incline and speed settings.



If you’ve had leg injuries and need a low/no impact workout, the elliptical is a great alternative for increasing your heart rate without the pounding of a treadmill.

  • Safe, non-weight bearing exercise that’s easy on joints
  • Ability to reverse the motion and train a different muscle group
  • Excellent cross-training for runners


The elliptical is not without its faults. You can easily shortchange your workout potential on this machine, making it a less-effective option.

  • Too easy to rely on momentum, which can result in less effort and a less-efficient workout
  • Doesn’t mimic real world functional movements
  • Fewer workout options and variety than a treadmill

Bottom Line

While the treadmill offers the best calorie burn, the elliptical is better for those who are prone to injury. It comes down to your individual goals, injury history, and fitness level. Your best bet is to try both and discover which works best for you.

Bonus Calorie Burn

To boost your calorie burn on either machine, incorporate [high intensity interval training HIIT!

Your turn: Which machine do your prefer?

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